Colour me YIMBY – The Province

Like many recent years, 2016 could well have been called ‘Year of the NIMBY’ when it comes to new home construction in Metro Vancouver. The mere fact that most reading this know that NIMBY stands for “Not in My Back Yard,” goes to show how ubiquitous community pushback has become in the face of new development.

In some ways, the rise of NIMBYism isn’t surprising: it reflects the normal growing pains felt by a region increasing in population by an average rate of 30,000* new residents per year.

To solve the housing supply challenges of 2017 and beyond, we need to change from NIMBY to YIMBY – “Yes in My Back Yard.” How does that happen?

Most residents cannot be painted with the same NIMBY brush. Many readily see that change often provides municipalities with the opportunity to improve neighbourhoods – new housing choices to address a city’s changing demographics, new community amenities and refreshed commerce centres are a few benefits that come to mind.

NIMBYism is really a property rights battle between today’s residents who are well-organized, fighting to maintain a certain lifestyle, and the growth and requirements for tomorrow’s residents, who are not as organized.

Governments catering to a perceived majority –NIMBYs, often the loudest group, slow the creation of new supply and needed amenities, which can generate a negative impact on the very municipalities NIMBYs are trying to protect.

NIMBYism impacts all municipalities across Metro Vancouver.

West Vancouver lacks affordable housing forms for an aging population; North Vancouver is facing traffic congestion, with councilors opposed to passing development permits siting “we are full”; Surrey is battling a larger school population boom, with packed classrooms and portables; these issues and more are a result from trying to hold on to the status quo vs anticipating the demand and needs of future communities with proactive urban planning.

The impact of delaying or stopping development has multiple negative ramifications on future homeowners and city centres.

Delays in rezoning and building permits increase the estimated project completion time, and ultimate cost, and that gets passed onto the home buyer. At the same time, a lack of housing inventory will continue to drive price of available housing stock up. It puts the city in a vulnerable position of catching up.

Many smaller communities do not have the tax base required to support the growing needs and infrastructures required by future generations, making development an essential component to the future livelihood of our communities.

Looking forward to 2017 and beyond, we need to take a second look at how we allow NIMBYism and how we can promote YIMBYism. In particular, we need to deal with the systemic problem first pointed out by Sam Sullivan whereby the same elected officials who lead Official Community Plan development also consider rezoning applications. It makes no sense. There needs to be a separation between those who create the rules and those that implement them.

One solution could be to move municipal land-use planning decisions to a ‘higher’ level such as regionally or provincially to reduce potential for bias at the neighbourhood level. Or if that’s not politically possible, at least buffer or protect city staff to allow the most efficient and well-considered decisions without political interference.

All cities across Metro Vancouver need to plan for inevitable growth and natural upgrades required over time. My Christmas wish this year is to collectively move forward in 2017 with a YIMBY attitude, knowing “Yes In My Back Yard”, means I can have a voice in shaping the future growth of my community.

* REBGV quote from Metro Vancouver’s forecast.